DETROIT - "The Few, the Proud," is the motto people hear in the ads for Marine Corps. Jake Diliberto was a Marine corporal who served first in Afghanistan - in 2001- and two years later in Iraq.
But it's what he's done since being discharged, that makes him among "the few and the proud." Diliberto has co-founded Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan, a group of activists and veterans pushing to reduce troop counts in Afghanistan and lobby for the use of alternative peacemaking strategies.
Over lunch with a number of peace activists here in Detroit, Diliberto said after coming back, he was initially confused about the whole experience. "We wage a war, knock out their capital and then we can go home. But then we started building these massive bases at the end of the invasion."
"My issue with Afghanistan is that Afghanistan doesn't need force. Having massive military bases, occupying their country, killing innocent civilians, is running away from our ability to have any real solutions. We need to learn to relate to the world in a positive way. If all we rely on is military force, that will always be our first response."
He was asked if drones were ethical, and replied, "I think they are counterproductive. I don't think drones are any more different than bombing raids in World War II. They have the same effect of innocent civilians suffering."
He emphasized we really underestimate the impact of killing innocent civilians.
"When innocent people die, there is a violation of human rights. You have to ask yourself, if you have a gang in your neighborhood, conducting illegal activity - even the worst kind - are you okay with one of your family members or neighbors dying because somebody got a wrong address?"
Diliberto said his family is very conservative and still believes going into Iraq was the right thing to do. However, if you tell them what this war is costing, that it is a slow burning hole, damaging the U.S. economy with mounting debt, and it cannot be sustained, that gets them thinking.
He also said some soldiers do feel positive about their experience, because in addition to the military aspect of their tours, there may also be a humanitarian aspect, such as building a school or protecting others who are building schools. "What escapes the soldier is, do I have to be here for this to happen?"
Later in the day, Diliberto spoke at the University of Detroit Mercy. When he finished his talk he was asked what he would advise a young person wanting to join the Marines.
"The reality of the situation is that the war is ugly and nasty, the likelihood of seeing conflict is 90 percent; 70 percent come back with PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) and 45 percent of women are sexually abused."
He said we need to get out of our houses and talk to people and in particular to get active with our representatives in Washington. "Tell them to stick to withdrawing troops in 18 months or you'll vote them out of office," he exclaimed.
Photo: John Rummel/PW